Who was buried in James Madison’s grave?  A Study  in Contextual Analysis

Abstract: The Madison family did not write the history of their cemetery, but by
combining a storytelling method with historical, genealogical and archaeological
information, a thought provoking construction of the history is presented. On June
29, 1836, James Madison, Jr. was buried in an unmarked grave beside his parents in
the family cemetery at Montpelier. The President’s grave was later marked in 1857,
but his parents still lie unmarked. As many as 100 burials are contained within the
cemetery, but only 31 of these burials are marked with a gravestone. Utilizing the
concept of a cemetery as a community of the dead, created, maintained, and
preserved by the community of the living, the President’s death, burial and the
marking of his grave will be used as an entry point into the contextual history of the
family cemetery. This thesis asks the question: Why are some burials in the cemetery
marked and others unmarked? And in particular, why was President James Madison’s
burial not marked with a gravestone until 21 years after his death? Focusing on the
cemetery community concept this thesis examines how nearly 275 years of history
can be contextualized and used as an analytical tool to answer these questions. The
research brings to life the numerous past and present living communities who have
created, maintained, and preserved the cemetery’s community of the dead through
time, from the Madison family up through the Montpelier Foundation; and as the
historical context is created the context in turn creates and explains itself. Simple
answers do not exist for the questions posed in this thesis, but through an
engagement with context one can see that both the marked and unmarked graves
were commemorative acts. A famous gravestone epitaph states, “Remember me as
you pass by, as you are now so once was I, as I am now so you shall be, prepare for
death and follow me.” In the pages that follow, this thesis, through the use of
fictional prose and non-fictional narrative, tells the previously untold story of the
marked and unmarked graves contained within the Madison family cemetery at
Montpelier.